According to a major new Gates-funded study in The Lancet, developing countries have been hugely over-reporting their coverage rates for childhood vaccinations.
The Associated Press takes up the story: "From 1986 to 2006, the United Nations reported that 14 million children received immunizations in the programs. But the reports from the independent surveys put that number at just over 7 million."
All this is depressingly reminiscent of UNAIDS' systematic overreporting of global AIDS prevalence.
There are two points to take away from this.
First, corruption remains a real problem in healthcare delivery. Vaccination programmes are amongst the easiest and most cost-effective interventions in public health. They have been supported by philanthropic and donor funding to the tune of billions. Where, then, has all the money gone? (a point I make in the AP article).
Second, it re-emphasises the absurdity of organisations like UNAIDS and UNICEF being responsible for both advocating for their disease and collating data. There is obviously a clear conflict of interest when an organisation is simultaneously trying to raise the profile of a disease, and gather credible data on prevalence. The incentive is to overstate the case in order to secure continuing high levels of funding,
As Prof Jim Chin has observed, this is exactly what happened with UNAIDS.
Wouldn't it be better to have a private, independent entity tasked with collating public health data? This way these kinds of conflicts of interest can be avoided in future.